Parents could do time under Fla. legislation State revising juvenile justice system

November 05, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Despite constitutional concerns, the Florida Senate has approved a juvenile justice reform bill that, among other things, would give judges the right to make parents perform community service with their unruly kids.

But the Senate's version differed yesterday from a bill the House passed Wednesday on one significant point: Should serious offenders be automatically dumped into the adult prison system? The Senate said no; the House said yes.

The difference was being worked out today, the last day of the week-long special session. If agreement is reached and the bill is not vetoed by Gov. Lawton Chiles, Florida could have a new juvenile justice law before the end of the month.

"If you are going to possess a gun and you are under 18 years old, you are going to suffer a consequence," said Sen. Ron Silver, D-North Miami Beach. "That is the message we are going to send."

Among the bill's provisions:

* Juveniles caught carrying guns would be punished with a minimum of 100 hours' community service and up to one year's loss of a driver's license for a first offense. The penalty is 250 hours and two years' loss for a second offense.

* Judges would have the discretion to sentence parents of gun-toting juveniles to serve up to 100 hours of community service with their kids on a second offense. On a first offense, parents can be ordered to attend parenting education classes taught by the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services.

* The penalties for adults or firearm dealers who sell or transfer guns to children increase from misdemeanors to third- and second-degree felonies, respectively. A third-degree felony is punishable by up to five years in prison; a second-degree felony is up to 15 years. Punishment for misdemeanors is less than one year in jail.

L The bill includes exemptions for hunting or target practice.

"The people of this state are fed up, and they want something done now," said Marion Hammer, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, which supports the legislation.

"The juveniles may laugh at it now," she said, "but after they get slam-dunked, we'll see who's laughing."

Yesterday, the gun bill got its stiffest challenge from lawmakers who argued that the provision that would punish parents was unconstitutional and would probably disproportionately be used on poor, single black mothers.

Black legislators expressed skepticism about the provision.

"Ultimately, what you're going to have is a bunch of black females," said Sen. Daryl Jones, D-Miami. "It may just take a bunch of single women and put them out of work" while they do community service.

But those who supported it didn't put up a strong defense on the constitutionality issue. With Florida's reputation sullied , lawmakers made it clear that they were willing to go to extraordinary lengths to address juvenile justice.

"What this says to the parents is, raising your kids is your business, but your kids' raising hell is our business," said Ander Crenshaw, R-Jacksonville, the Senate president pro tempore.

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